Choosing a trail shoe is very personal and has tons of variables, but at the end of the day, you want to find something that’s comfortable for you and suits the needs for your intended running purpose.
Know the Terrain and Avoid the Pain
If you are going to be running on a dirt path, light gravel or anything that’s “groomed”. You probably don’t need a trail shoe at all. Your road shoes will do just fine. Boom, I just saved you $100!
A medium difficulty trail will probably have some roots, rocks, sand and a variety of obstacles to work around. You can probably get away with your standard pair of road shoes, but the risk of slipping and / or twisting an ankle goes up. If you are just taking trail running for a spin, I recommend you start with your road shoes and make a decision later. If you fall in love with trail running and you want to keep after it, then consider moving to a trail shoe.
Now is the time to definitely pick that trail shoe out. Hard trails will have a good bit of ups and downs with the potential of having to use your hands as you climb hills. Hard trail running is more like hiking. You will be navigating and paying attention to the trail. I would consider it to be technical running. Lot’s of tree roots, larger rocks, water crossing and steep ascent and descents abound.
3 essentials, no matter where you run
Find a shoe that is comfortable and has a good tread pattern for the type of trail you run. It should be snug but not tight. That means snug in the width with a little extra room in the toe. Check your large toe placement. If it is hitting the front of the running shoe, your running shoe is too small. Your feet will swell and you will need the extra room, especially on the trail. It’s best to err on the side of a bit (only a bit) too large. Squished, cramped toes and too-short shoes are what Bandaid makes their money on.
Be sure to choose a shoe that’s got some stability. It sort of seems obvious, but you will be running on a trail. That means a different kind of terrain, roots, rocks, loose dirt…it’s the kind of stuff that anyone with a little bit of klutz in them is sure to find a “slip and fall” moment. Give the shoes an ankle roll test, but don’t actually roll your ankle. Just a little a side to side motion to give you a sense of security.
Trail shoes tend to be a little heavier than your normal road shoe. You want something that will still allow air (and potentially water) to flow through it to keep your feet cool and dry.
Avoid unnecessary features
Shoes are meant to do 2 things really well. Protect your feet and keep you stable. Once the features starting getting really niche, you can pass over those specialized options. Spare the expense unless you happen to be an ultra-runner or you just love having novel shoes. Stay away from built in gaiters or temperature sensitive ratings. For most people, that’s a feature you are just never going to need.
Seek help along the way
Reading posts like this is great, but at the end of the day, find a store that knows running and go talk to them. Try lots of shoes on. Find something that’s comfortable for you. If you think you found the right one, try the next size up just to be sure. Take them for a test drive for crying out loud. Your feet and your knees are precious, make your body agrees with your new gear.
We at Totally Running would love to help. We have a knowledge staff, we love running and we have a great selection of shoes for you to try!